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A 11 pages term paper on Thailand

               The modern Thai are descended from a much larger group of peoples who speak Tai languages. Tai-speaking peoples are found from extreme northeastern India in the west to northern Vietnam in the east and as far south as the central Malay Peninsula. In the past scholars held that a parent group called the Proto-Tai originated in southern China and pushed south and west from the China landmass into northern mainland Southeast Asia. Most scholars now believe that the Tai came from northern Vietnam around the Dien Bien Phu area and that about 1,000 years ago they spread from there northward into southern China, westward into southwestern China, northern Myanmar (Burma) and northeastern India, and southward into what are now Laos and Thailand. The Tai were lowland peoples who historically settled along river valleys in northern mainland Southeast Asia and southwestern China. There they formed small settlements where they practiced subsistence agriculture based on rice cultivation, supplemented by fishing and gathering forest products. Early in their history the Tai domesticated animals: they used water buffalo for plowing and ritual purposes and pigs and fowl for food. Women were accorded relatively high social status and could inherit property. The Tai practiced animism; they believed that spirits could be benevolent or malevolent and needed to be propitiated through offerings and special ceremonies.

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               Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been occupied by any European or other foreign power, except in war. (Goodman, Jim). The country was an absolute monarchy from 1782 until 1932, when rebels seized power in a coup and established a constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has come under the rule of many governments, both civil and military. The country was known as Siam until 1939 (when it was renamed Thailand), and again for a few years in the late 1940s. In 1949 the name Thailand was adopted a second time. Thailand (known until 1939 as Siam) has never been heavily populated. Residents of cities are 21 percent of Thailand’s inhabitants. More than 10 percent is concentrated in Bangkok, where serious problems of overcrowding do exist. Since World War II, a significant number of rural Thai have moved from the countryside to cities in search of better economic opportunities. Many Thai people also have migrated abroad either on a permanent basis, mainly to the United States and Canada, or on a temporary one, as migrant laborers, to other Southeast Asian countries (such as Singapore) and to countries of the Middle East.

Economy Of Thailand Effected

               Thailand has a predominantly developed into a market economy based largely on services, light industries, and agriculture. The gross national product (GNP) is increasing much more rapidly than the population. Agriculture accounts for about one-eighth of the gross domestic product (GDP) but employs more than one-half of the workforces. Small landholders predominate through most of the country. Rice is the chief staple, and export duties on it are high to prevent domestic shortages. Corn (maize) is widely grown in the uplands around the central plain. Cassava, rubber, sugarcane, bananas, pineapples, and kenaf (a fiber used as a substitute for jute) are important cash crops. Cattle and buffalo are used for several years as draft animals and then slaughtered for meat. Pig and poultry rising have become increasingly large-scale specialized endeavors. Fish are the main source of protein, and landings increased sharply when trawlers were introduced after 1960. Forests have been over cut, and production of round wood must be supplemented by imports. (O’Reilly, James)

The recent history of Thailand’s economy is defined by more than a decade of sustained and rapid economic growth beginning in 1985, followed by a severe recession that started in late 1997. During the boom years, economic growth averaged more than 7 percent annually, one of the highest rates in the world. The crisis of 1997 and 1998 wiped out some of the gains of the boom and forced major adjustments in Thai industry and economic policy.

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                Many different factors contributed to the rapid growth of Thailand’s economy. Low wages, policy reforms that opened the economy more to trade, and careful economic management resulted in low inflation and a stable exchange rate. These factors encouraged domestic savings and investment and made the Thai economy an ideal host for foreign investment. Foreign and domestic investment caused manufacturing to grow rapidly, especially in labor-intensive, export-oriented industries, such as those producing clothing, footwear, electronics, and consumer appliances. These industries also benefited from a tremendous expansion in world trade during the 1980s. As industry expanded, many Thai people who previously had worked in agriculture began to work in manufacturing, slowing growth in the agriculture sector. Meanwhile, manufacturing growth spurred the expansion of service sector activities.

                By 1998 Thailand’s per capita income reached $2,160, making it an upper-middle income developing economy. Although Thailand was technically still a poor country, spectacular income gains enjoyed by the urban middle class made the country one of the world’s large markets for luxury cars and other expensive consumer goods. However, by Asian standards the gains of growth were not distributed equally among the Thai population: between 1981 and 1994 the incomes of the richest 20 percent of the population grew significantly in comparison to those of the poorest 20 percent. Nearly all Thai benefited in some fashion from growth. The percentage of the population living in poverty fell from 23 percent in 1981 to less than 10 percent in 1994. (Chris Baker)

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                In the early 1990s a series of economic policy reforms introduced by the Thai government made it easy and attractive for foreign banks to offer loans to Thai banks. The Thai banks used the capital to lend money to domestic finance companies, property developers, and other investors, stimulating an investment boom. In an atmosphere of great optimism about continued rapid growth, the resulting investment boom created a “bubble economy” based on speculation in urban property and stocks. The bubble burst in 1996 and 1997, when stock and property prices declined steeply. As speculators in these sectors failed to repay loans, many Thai banks became unable to service their foreign debt, causing investor confidence to fall sharply. In mid-1997 Thailand's economy experienced a significant setback as the Thai currency fell sharply against the U.S. dollar. Many businesses and financial institutions failed, and unemployment rose sharply. The crisis then spread, affecting the economies of other Asian nations. To control and contain the situation, the International Monetary Fund stepped in with a package of loans, in return for which Thailand accepted measures intended to restore its economy to health. By late 1998 the exchange rate had improved. Meanwhile, in November 1997 Chavalit, facing criticism for his handling of the economy, resigned as prime minister. Chuan Leekpai was appointed to the post a second time. 

Religions The Changing Behaviors

               Buddhism is professed by the vast majority of Thailand's population and is considered the national religion. Most Thai Buddhists are of the Theravada school. Muslims now constitute a sizable minority and live mostly in the south. Most of the country's small Christian community lives in the central region. Hindus also are concentrated in the central region, chiefly around Bangkok. Although several of the hill tribes have converted to Buddhism or Christianity, most remain animists. An unusual aspect of Thai religious life is the considerable influence of the Hindu Brahmans, even though they total only a few thousand families. Most royal and official ceremonies are almost always directed or performed by the Brahmans, whose rites are blended harmoniously with those of the Buddhists. Brahmans are renowned for their astrological expertise, assume responsibility for preparing the national calendar, and officiate at such state ceremonies as the annual plowing ceremony, which is believed to bring a good rice harvest. There are no important new religious movements in Thailand, but Buddhist monks have become more vocal in advocating environmental and social issues.

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Social Life Gradual Development

               The Thai have always been an agricultural people of the lowland valleys and basins, where they cultivate wet rice with the use of water buffalo and harvested a wide range of fish and shellfish from the rivers and the sea. These occupations were often supplemented, especially in the north and northeast, by the collection of forest products, ranging from timber, such as teak and bamboo, to foods stored for consumption during the dry season. In the northern mountain valleys, Tai-speaking peoples developed an intricate system of small-scale irrigation, called muang Fai. The eventual move to the great central plain necessitated the development of canals for transportation and, from the late-19th century onwards, of much larger irrigation and flood-control systems. Small nuclear families occupied villages, comprising wooden houses on stilts. The pattern of life was governed above all by the seasonal rhythm of the monsoons and by a series of important religious festivals. Many of these festivals were closely associated with fertility and the arrival and ending of the rains.

                The Thai are now an increasingly urbanized people, with a strong interest in shopping and trade. Thai cookery is considered one of the world’s great cuisines, known for its range of subtle spices and sauces. Favorite Thai foods include salads of meat, fish, and vegetables; soups; curries (stews flavored with a blend of ground spices); and tropical fruits. 

               Thailand faces a number of social problems. Corruption affects government, business, and even the Buddhist monkshood (known as the sangha), and the press frequently reports scandals. Drugs and drug trafficking are ongoing concerns. In rural areas, many tropical diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera, remain a threat. Wide social gaps—between rich and poor, city and countryside—compound these problems.

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Effects On The Politics

               Thailand’s political life is not very encouraging .The political parties are severely restricted for several decades following the 1932 change of government but have multiplied since that time. Many parties serve as the personal political machines of individuals or small groups, and few represent defined ideologies. More than a dozen parties contested the elections of 1996. Among the most prominent were the centrist Democrat (Prachathipat) Party.

Works Cited

Goodman, Jim. Thailand. Cavendish   1991.

O'Reilly, James, and Larry Habegger. Travelers' Tales: Thailand. O'Reilly, 1994.

Phongpaichit, Pasuk, and Chris Baker. Thailand: Economy and Politics. Oxford University Press 1997

Terwiel. B J.  A History of Modern Thailand (1767-1942), Queens land, 1984.

Wood, William A. A History Of Siam From The Earliest Times To The Year AD 1781.  Siam Barnakich 1933

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